Adventurers’ offspring strike out on their own

Brother, sister and friend plan kite-ski expedition across Greenland

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JOHN THOMPSON

They’re the kids of two of Nunavut’s best-known adven­t­urers, and they’re preparing for their first big trip, without the parents.

Sarah McNair-Landry, 20, and her brother Eric, 22, plan to cover more than 2,300 kilometres by kite-ski this May across the Greenland Ice Cap, beginning at the island’s southern tip and ending at the village of Qaanaaq, near the Thule air base.

The trip, expected to take about 40 days, will be the longest the siblings have undertaken.

Both hold a long list of accomplishments. They’re the youngest to kite-ski to the South Pole, with their mother, Matty McNair.

And both have crossed Greenland from east to west several times, with their father, Paul Landry, using skis, dog sleds and kites.

You could almost say the siblings were bred for cold-climate expeditions. Among McNair-Landry’s earlier memories is being strapped to a dogsled while travelling with her parents in Quebec, and watching clumps of snow fall from nearby tree branches on her face.

But the siblings aren’t looking to break any records this summer. This time, the trip is for fun.

Too often a trip to either the South or North Pole is a frantic rush, McNair-Landry says. It’s exhilarating at times, but you aren’t left with much time to take it all in.

And Greenland is the perfect place to do just that. It’s a kite-skiers’ paradise.

Past the Arctic Circle, the sun will be visible at all hours. During her last trip to Greenland, temperatures were so warm, McNair-Landry spent some days kiting in surf shorts.

“It’s such a beautiful place. I would live up there if I could, up on the ice cap,” she says.

Joining them is their friend, Iqaluit resident Curtis Jones, 29. While he’s an enthusiastic climber and photographer, he has little expedition experience compared to the McNair-Landrys.

So to get himself into shape, Jones has spent many of his mornings and evenings hauling his own weight in dog food, loaded on a sledge as dead weight, as he cross-country skis around Iqaluit’s bay.

They picked Jones, McNair-Landry says, because for a trip like this, “It’s more how you get along that matters.”

They have named their expedition Pittarack, after the fierce winds that blow across Greenland’s ice caps, which can reach speeds of more than 100 km/hr.

“Hopefully, we don’t get a pittarak,” McNair-Landry says.

Another danger, which grows each season due to global warming, is melt ponds on the ice cap. These are often covered with a thin layer of ice, which at times is enough to support the weight of a person. Other times, it’s not.

That’s how McNair-Landry’s father once found himself up to his neck in icy water, when he tried crossing over a thin patch that managed to support his daughter, but collapsed under his weight.

To avoid these obstacles, the group plans to stay at as high an elevation as they can during the southern-most stretch of their journey. In areas, the ice cap reaches heights of 3,000 feet above sea level.

As well, the three will spend their first few days roped up together, and will travel by cross-country ski, without kites, to prepare for the danger of falling in a crevasse.

Each will have to pull between 250 to 300 pounds worth of gear behind them.

They will also bring solar panels, to charge their satellite phone, their PDA used to update their website, and their music players, which feed music into specially-designed helmets they wear while kiting.

Sarah likes listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Eric prefers Our Lady Peace, Moby and Smashing Pumpkins.

With 24 hours of sunlight, the group plans to kite whenever the wind is up, and rest when the wind dies down, McNair-Landry says.

In the past, when she was trying to break a speed record, she kited for stretches as long as 48 hours, with only short breaks. “You could be having dinner at four in the morning,” she says.

The three hope their expedition will encourage more youth to head outdoors and challenge themselves, she says.

While the trip won’t focus on tracking the effects of climate change, as other journeys have done, McNair-Landry says they plan to make the expedition as eco-friendly as possible, by packing garbage out with them – and eating certified-organic chocolate.

“We want to do it more by example. There are too many people that preach it,” she says.

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